Saturday 2017 Indianapolis 500 qualifying

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, USA

May 20, 2017

Bourdais Crash Silences Indy Crowd

Chevy man Carpenter fastest on Saturday

but Honda has 6 in the Fast 9

story and photos by Tim Hailey with texts from press releases

After hanging out through a 5 hour rain delay, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crowd was cheering loudly as 4X Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais laid down the fastest two laps of qualifying and was getting faster. Bourdais had the fastest car in Friday practice and the fans were excited to see that his speed was real. And then it went real bad real quickly. The crowd gasped as the back end of Bourdais' car kicked out in turn 2. Sebastien corrected, drifted the Dallara for a bit before the car regained traction and shot 234 mph into the Safer barrier at a 45 degree angle. The crowd's gasp turned to a shudder, then a deafening silence as the Holmatro Safety Crew reached the car and began the delicate work of removing the injured driver.

With little word about Bourdais' condition, the Speedway refrained from showing the replay. It was clearly a very serious crash. It was the kind of crash that used to kill drivers at Indianapolis before Safer barriers, carbon fiber monocoques, HANS devices, etc. And there are still no guarantees. James Hinchcliffe was nearly killed when impaled by a suspension piece in a turn 3 crash 2 years ago.

As Bourdais was transported to the hospital, and crews begain picking up pieces and mopping up oil and radiator fluid, attention turned to the head of the qualifying line. Last year's rookie winner Alex Rossi had been sitting in his car during the whole, very long delay. The day that began cold and wet was now hot and terribly humid. What must the young driver have been thinking and feeling in his nomex firesuit and helmet, strapped tightly into a car that—like Bourdais'—could go from great to garbage in a split second.

Rossi calmy and professionally delivered four smooth, quick laps that held up for 5th in Saturday's order, earning even more respect from the Indy crowd.

Later, driver Sebastien Bourdais was diagnosed with multiple fractures to his pelvis and a fracture to his right hip. Overnight surgery was successful and the Frenchman is reported to be in good spirits. "Surgery went well," INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows said. "I've met with Sebastien this morning and he was doing even better than I expected."


Bourdais was discharged from IU Health Methodist Hospital on Wednesday and has been moved to a local rehabilitation facility.

Bourdais sustained multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip when his No. 18 GEICO Honda crashed into the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 on the third lap of his qualifications attempt Saturday. The Dale Coyne Racing driver underwent successful surgery that evening at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

"Sebastien is progressing amazingly fast for having pelvis and hip fractures, and considering the severity of the crash," said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kevin Scheid, an INDYCAR medical consultant. "He is walking with crutches, in good spirits and feeling good.

"We expect the fractures to heal in around eight weeks and he should be able to start putting weight on the right leg then. Until that time, he can work on rehabilitating his upper body, core strength and range of motion in the hip."

Bourdais, the 38-year-old four-time Indy car champion, expressed his gratitude to everyone involved in his care from the time of the incident.

"I'm obviously really happy to be up on my feet and feeling pretty good about being able to walk on crutches," Bourdais said. "I'm really thankful to all the people at IU Health Methodist and the Holmatro Safety Team, everybody at INDYCAR and my team, Dale Coyne Racing, for helping me achieve that so early after the crash. 

"It's going to be a bit of a long road ahead," he added. "I still have six weeks before I can put weight on my right leg and put my foot on the ground, but after that it should be pretty smooth sailing. I'm really looking forward to the day I can get back in the car, and hopefully that will be before the end of the season. I look forward to seeing you guys at the track."

2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay looks around, waiting for his chance at 4 laps of glory. He failed to make the Fast 9.

The whole dramatic scenario was what separates racing—for better or worse—from games. The pit lane during qualifying is a sort of social gathering of racing industry folks and media types. The crews surround the cars, making sure Baby has everything she needs to do the job. Here's your one chance, Fancy, don't let me down.

The drivers for the most part are isolated in their own world even before they put on the helmet and get strapped into the car. Back when there were more than 33 cars and drivers trying to qualify for the Indy 500, this was the hardest day on the job. Now, even with a one-and-done format like yesterday's rain-shortened program—there is little sense in hanging it all out unless you truly have a chance at pole. Bourdais was one who had that chance.

Saturday's Fast 9 move on to fight it out for pole on Sunday. There will not be a man among this group who does not think they can be the focus of adoration this week—the driver who put his sponsor's logo into the limelight. It will be an interesting session.

Fernando Alonso is in the Fast 9. The 2X F1 world champion has the Indy crowd eating out his hand, cheering every lap on Saturday as he showed he had the nerve for Indy qualifying's solo spotlight. "Qualifying is always tricky," the Spaniard said in one of my two favorite racing quotes so far this year (the other courtesy of Andrew Hines). "When I go to the go-kart track and run on the clock in front of 15 kids—it's tough!"

Fernando and the Andretti/McLaren team

Middle-aged driver Helio Castroneves sits in the qualifying line, visualizing his four laps, turning his wheel slightly to the left at regular intervals. Meanwhile, directly behind Helio....

.....Millennial driver (and last year's polesitter) James Hinchcliffe fiddles with his iPhone. Neither made the Fast 9

IMS president Doug Boles, shown here watching the scoreboard and cheering a good lap, is a real fan.

Oriol Servia roamed the pit lane with great swagger and casual workplace confidence. The Spaniard is bawdy and hilarious on local Indy radio

Servia at speed

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